The key is kids
OT speaks to independent practitioners about raising the profile of children’s eye care
01 June 2018
With statistics such as 20% of school-aged children have an undiagnosed vision problem, there is no denying that when it comes to children’s vision, many parents are unaware of the importance of regular sight tests from a young age. And while a dental appointment may become routine once the pearly whites appear, ensuring that your child has a sight test can fall by the wayside.
Yet, good eyesight is crucial for the development of children and can be pivotal in helping them reach their full potential, both academically and socially.
As front-line ambassadors, one way that practitioners can help raise awareness of the importance of eye health and regular sight tests for children is through school talks.
Getting through the door
Optometrist and independent practice owner, Prab Boparai, has been giving talks in primary schools across Wolverhampton for the last six years.
“I opened up my own practice eight years ago and would always encourage patients who were parents to bring their children in for a sight test. In doing, so I realised that parents were not aware that children should be having their eyes examined from a young age,” Ms Boparai shared.
I soon realised that it was a much bigger issue than the odd parent. In fact, most people didn’t know that children should be screened,” she added.
Wanting to change this, Ms Boparai decided that the best way to tackle it was to make sure that the topic was approached when children begin school.
Having acquired Reynolds Opticians in Penzance in January this year, husband and wife duo, Marcus and Sophie Slater, have already been out in the community to speak to its younger residents about the importance of eye health and the role of the optometrist.
Despite acquiring a practice that has a patient demographic of mainly 60 years and over, Mr Slater believes that it’s important to educate children about the importance of eye health from a young age in order for them to be more compliant teenagers and adults. And he believes school and nursery visits are a way to achieve this.
“Starting from grassroots is key because if you educate young people that having a regular eye test is important, they are more likely to attend the opticians throughout their life,” the optometrist explained.
“We know that between the ages of four and seven is a critical period for children and eye care, but it’s also important for them to have their eyes checked regularly throughout their school years. Therefore, if you can get them into the routine of coming to the opticians regularly, then problems with sight can be picked up much earlier,” he added.
When visiting schools and nurseries, the pair take some pieces of key equipment with them, allowing them to demonstrate to children what is involved in a sight test.
Children like the interactivity of the talk, “especially trying on glasses and looking at the pictures that are involved in some of the different tests that we can do,” Mr Slater said.
The optometrist emphasised that the talks, and the eye test, “is all about having fun – we try to make it as enjoyable as possible.”
Turning on her computer, she began to email the heads of local primary schools to see if she could speak to children about vision and the importance of an eye exam.
“I knew that in order to be invited through the doors, first I had to convince the head teachers and teachers. To do so I would need to tell them about how important vision and regular sight tests are for children in an efficient and effective manner,” she shared.
The optometrist found that sharing key facts about eye health and children’s vision proved an effective way of being invited in. “I highlight that 20% of school age children have an undetected vision problem, for example, and I will also always attach the AOP’s poster that says: ‘How does a child know that this is not normal?’ – it’s really effective,” Ms Boparai explained.
Speaking honestly about the reception she initially received, Ms Boparai admitted that she did not always get a reply. “It’s not one email, you have to persist and send various communications because sometimes it may be missed or go into the junk folder. It’s a matter of following up,” she highlighted.
Types of talks
Once Ms Boparai is invited to visit a school, there are two types of talks she draws from. While the first is an interactive discussion with children, the second is aimed at teachers and parents.
For Ms Boparai, it’s important to engage with the parents as well as the children because “they are the gatekeeper to their child’s eye health.”
Over the years, in addition to in-class talks, Ms Boparai has attended open days and school fairs, which she finds are particularly effective as they offer the opportunity to educate the parents and their children together.
When addressing parents, it’s all about the facts, the optometrist emphasises. “With adults, I try to hit them really quickly with some key facts that grab their attention. I emphasise that good vision is crucial for a child’s overall development and explain that if they can’t see clearly it can affect concentration and behavior – therefore early detection is crucial.”
Ms Boparai also tries to educate parents around UV protection, a healthy diet and visual hygiene – all of which she points out can impact on vision.
Sharing further insight into her classroom talks with children, Ms Boparai advised: “The talks with children are designed to be 10–15 minutes long, which I make as interactive as possible. We talk about the eyes and what happens during an eye exam. We also look at the different types of tests there are – letters, numbers and pictures.”
When it comes to how she engages with this younger demographic, Ms Boparai believes “it’s all about being at their level.” Addressing them while on her knees, at their eye line and giving them her full attention are methods she finds effective.
The talks end with question time, stickers and a little encouragement to attend an opticians for an eye exam.
"With adults, I try to hit them really quickly with some key facts that grab their attention. I emphasise that good vision is crucial for a child’s overall development and if they can’t see clearly it can affect concentration and behaviour"
For Ms Boparai, the overarching reason for giving school talks is to raise awareness of children’s eye health. Therefore, she chooses to leave any commercial agenda at the school gates.
However, the practice does receive some benefits through word of mouth recommendations, she said. “Often parents will take their children to their own opticians, if they have one, otherwise they will come to our practice when they decide to have an eye exam and then recommend others.”
Yet she highlights: “I always encourage parents and children to visit their local opticians rather than mentioning mine because I think some parents can be sceptical about your motives as a business owner.”
Encouraging fellow optometrists to visit their local schools to give talks, Ms Boparai confirmed that feedback from teachers has been very positive. “They are very pleased, impressed and grateful to us for raising the issue,” she said.
The AOP has produced a wide range of children’s vision resources, including template letters for schools and parents, a lesson plan and a presentation to support practitioners as they discuss the importance of eye health and why vision matters.
Image credit: Shutterstock